IT’S well and truly gift-giving season. Even for the most stalwart Scrooges among us (myself included), there’s no escaping the festivities. I’ve long departed from religion, but the synchronism of Christmas as a time for forgiveness has stayed with me. I’ve always found it easier to be magnanimous to my fellow humans with a full belly and a glass of wine. Whatever your beliefs, there’s a notion that it’s the time for reconciliation, to shake out last year’s kinks and reset for the year ahead. This year has ranged from mildly perturbing to outright intolerable. That means there’s a lot of kinks to shake out. Perhaps too many.

The greatest gift you can give is forgiveness, so we’re told. You can give it and free yourself in the process. Having a generous heart and a capacity to relieve another of their burden seems virtuous enough. Similarly, giving acceptance can catalyse an erstwhile absent instance of self-reflection. In this commonly accepted portrait of forgiveness, it’s something hard to give, something costly to the giver, an example of being high-minded when others go low. A heavyweight gift, it seems.

Forgiveness is an essential part of what makes us human, one of the many vital wefts that keep the fabric of society together, because everyone from Nunavut to Ushuaia, from the first hominid to the last, has erred and will err. Without our willingness to accept the faltering of others, and their tolerance for our missteps, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.

But do we forgive too readily? Given the revelations of this year to date, I think we do. More than it’s comfortable to admit. Think about how often we relent, let people take advantage of our good nature because personal peace is the more immediate need and infinitely more appealing than the unpleasantness of confrontation. Often it presents itself as an option rather than being sought out, in the guise of being the right thing to do.

Undoubtedly, a lot of the time, it’s easier to just let it go. You only have to look at the extent of the #metoo hashtag to see one example of how often serious transgressions are sidestepped, adding up to a tacit forgiveness that doesn’t ultimately serve the greater good. It’s what we’re encouraged to do for the sake of an easier life, and so we don’t always challenge things when we really should.

And herein lies the paradox: giving forgiveness can free us from the weight of a grudge, the desire for revenge. But it can also relieve us from the weight of knowing we need to take action. It can be a stalling tactic, a minimising one, distancing one, and can act against the interests of justice. It appeals because it’s so easily rationalised, given its social value as a moral “good”.

But it also functions to keep us from the necessary struggles that radically reface our milieu for the better. Reaching for forgiveness first can keep us from change and from growth. What happens if it’s withheld? What happens if you leave those so accustomed to your generosity wanting for it? I think we’re starting to seeing the first shoots of that resistance. In tempering our usual default response from minimising to outright forgiveness, we might create a space for justice to germinate.

IT’S been a year of reckoning for the previously untouchable. The shallow foundations of the powerful have been exposed. Last year’s clouds blew in, grew fat on this year’s political heat, social unrest, economic pressure. They’ve been swirling throughout 2017, growing in intensity. The wind picked up, the rain fell, washing the cover off of those who’ve relied on it. The forces that feed the storm are ample. It’s by no means nearing conclusion. As it traverses what we know, uproots those we know and love, we will all to some degree be confronted by our personal capacities for emotional generosity or lack thereof.

You may find yourself surveying the wreckage up close, confronted by the exposition of a flaw. A friend, a colleague, a parent, a sibling, someone you used to know charged as capable of causing hurt beyond your understanding. I’ve been there this year, confronted with the flummoxing cruelty of a person close to me. I can’t deny the temptation to patch up and bring them close, but I don’t believe it’s always the right thing to do. I think there are gains to be had in resisting. Especially if they expect it, and in receiving it would fail to understand the depth of their wrongs.

The people asking for pardon right now are the people most used to being pardoned. They’re the people we are incentivised to let off the hook. The rich-and-powerful Harvey Weinsteins of the world. The narcissistic demagogues in power. The talented but flawed artists. The serial creep whose comedy specials you can quote verbatim. The tacit forgiveness has begun already. You have novelists defending wife-beaters, directors standing by their rapey friends, actors using their platform to talk about “misreporting” of sexual assault. The allure of the path of least resistance, the willingness to compartmentalise, the desire to move on all have a power over us. We’re perilously close to reverting to type if we yield to it in the face of this year’s wrongs.

Now we’ve had a glimpse of how things could be, where mendacity and cruelty are answered swiftly with appropriate consequences. We can’t go back. We mustn’t give in yet. Resist the urge to brush their behaviour aside for the sake of amity.

The grace of good-meaning people has always been the wrongdoer’s best camouflage, disrupting the rumours enough to allow them to blend in. If we learn to withhold the gift they want most, our acceptance and forgiveness, the permission to move on unencumbered by their actions, we might sketch the contours of their actions plainly. It’s time to wean the leeches off the charity they exploit.